NOWADAYS THE ONLY CERTAIN PATH ONTO THE F1 GRID IS THANKS TO A BILLIONAIRE FATHER LIKE LAWRENCE STROLL
GLOBAL MOTORSPORT, IN PARTICULAR global singleseater formulae, could be pricing themselves into oblivion in the near future. It’s a harsh reality that was revealed to me following a recent lengthy conversation with Jörg Bergmeister.
Now, Jörg’s place in this story is as a mere messenger. The former Porsche factory racer turned road car development driver and brand ambassador comes from a racing family. His father and grandfather both raced professionally, and now his nephew, Jakob, has decided to strap on the helmet and begin walking an arduous path that will one day, hopefully, lead him to F1.
According to his proud Uncle, Jakob is dedicating an intense amount of time and energy into racing even at a young age – going so far as spending five weeks on the road racing and training at the start of this year. Thing is, no amount of dedication or talent can secure Jakob a solid pathway to F1, even with a famed motorsport surname. Money, or more accurately a lack of it, is likely to either end his career altogether in the early stages, or steer him into the less financially dependent Pro-Am sportscar and GT pipeline as a hired gun to sit alongside gentleman drivers.
So how expensive is it to make your way through the junior ranks? Back-to-back weekends racing with a competitive karting squad will set you back over $50,000. Four days of junior kids karting for the price of a house deposit. You’ll need to pay that amount if you want any chance of being competitive either. Now extrapolate that figure across the busy European karting season.
The next step from karting on the ladder to F1 is Formula 4. Limitless testing and entry into multiple national categories – again mandatory for any chance of progressing further – has the cost of a single season with a competitive team ballooning out to $900,000-$1,100,000. Continue onward to F3 and F2 and that budget only increases. It goes without saying that this entirely eliminates a vast percentage of the motorsports community from ever being able to have a fair chance at making it to F1. It’s not as if the manufacturer-backed junior academies are a complete meritocracy either, with costly successful seasons needed to earn a berth within their exclusive ranks in the first place, and no guarantee of an F1 seat in the end.
Nowadays the only certain path onto the F1 grid is thanks to a billionaire father like Lawrence Stroll. But there’s more to the latest crop of son-of-a-billionaire pay drivers. Money opens doors, but in the modern age it also refines talent. It brings you the best equipment, driver coaches, and data analysts available, and gives you a safety net that means a nasty spare parts bill from a crash won’t torpedo your entire career. In short, it buys you the luxury of failure. If you know that having a monumental crash from trying a banzai move is affordable, literally, regardless of the outcome, you’ll be more willing to attempt it and learn from the result. A driver defending such an attack on a tight budget will have the monetary consequences at the back of their mind, guiding them toward a more conservative approach.
The days of pay drivers being as miserably out of place as Chanoch Nissany are no more. Sure, there are still those whose bank balance runs deeper than the depth of their talents, but for the most part that is now relegated to amateur GT racing. Lance Stroll, despite his father buying an entire F1 team to keep him in the sport, is actually a talented and worthy member of the F1 grid. Yes, the pay driver label befits him, but the amount of cash spent during his junior career has resulted in a relatively wellrounded F1 racer. Stroll isn’t an outlier, merely the tip of a spear that will become the new normal. The days of a naturally gifted youngster being picked up on talent alone may be coming to an end – or possibly have already passed. I, along with many others, will lament that loss. But the reality is this new generation of well-funded drivers will earn their place on the grid with honed driving skill, mostly because they are the only people who can afford to pay for that learning privilege.